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Satisfaction of helping others drives attorney in volunteer work with CLAM

All it took was an offer of free parking on the campus of St. Louis University for Donald Beimdiek to take on a volunteer job as a lawyer.

Nearly retired from his work as an attorney with Armstrong Teasdale, Beimdiek several years ago ran into Marie Kenyon, then-head of the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry, an agency of St. Francis Community Services that provides pro bono legal representation to the poor and marginalized.

Kenyon asked if he would put his skills as an attorney to use as a volunteer with CLAM, enticing him with free parking on SLU's campus. Since 2012, the 88-year-old has done just that, working more than 40 hours a week helping others in need, primarily with housing and rental challenges. A few years ago, CLAM's offices relocated to the SLU Law School building Downtown — Beimdiek traded in his free parking at SLU for a free Metro pass, allowing him to take MetroLink.

Beimdiek's assistance has ranged from helping people facing wrongful evictions because of language barriers, overcoming uninhabitable situations because of neglectful landlords and finding them resources for shelter or more stable housing.

Beimdiek said that he got involved in volunteering, because he wasn't the type to play golf in retirement. But he's gotten a great sense of satisfaction helping others in need. In fact, posted on the door of his office is a reference to an old Chinese saying that "happiness is found in helping others."

"I get satisfaction when we prevail (in legal cases) because the other side was not complying with the laws," he said. While not all clients will prevail, Beimdiek believes that "everyone is supposed to be given due process."

A member of Second Presbyterian Church in the Central West End, Beimdiek had a 50-year career as a real estate attorney with Armstrong Teasdale. He was involved in several notable projects, including the effort to save the Wainright Building and redevelopment of Union Station.

Among numerous honors, Beimdiek was listed as one of the Best Lawyers in America for 25 consecutive years. In 2009, he was named St. Louis' Real Estate Lawyer of the Year. And in June, Beimdiek was recognized with the Instrument of Peace Award at St. Francis Community Services' annual Seeds of Hope Gala.

"His clients have no clue the quality of the legal representation they are getting," said former colleague Marie Kenyon, who is now head of the archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission.

Beimdiek shared several examples of the clients he's helped, including an immigrant family who was experiencing adverse conditions in their apartment. The man of the household in frustration complained to the landlord, gesturing he'd "had it up to here," Beimdiek recalled, making a swiping gesture across his throat.

Because of a language barrier, the landlord misinterpreted the gesture as a threat of harm and took legal action. Beimdiek helped with the situation.

In another case, he had a client who paid the rent in cash to a landlord, a common custom of his client's culture. Unfortunately, the landlord didn't give the client a written receipt and then claimed that the tenant didn't pay the rent.

"The poor don't often understand the landlord/tenant obligations," he said. "Some are from cultures where everything is paid in cash, and there are no receipts. Other times, its straightening out a title to a family home. The mom dies and there's no will. How do you deal with situations like that?"

Reflecting on his faith as a Christian, Beimdiek noted that there should be an emphasis on a "responsibility to look out for people who need help." At his award recognition in June, he cited Pope Francis' challenge "to see the poor, to hear their stories, to care for them as our own brothers and sisters.

"It's a challenge," he said. "But it is also a privilege." 

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